BE ASHAMED…why are public officials living like Jay-Z and Beyonce? Asks Mwenye

THE corrupt are evil, they do not love the poor people and we must not glorify corruption by idolising people who have just stolen money from the public, says former attorney general Musa Mwenye.

He wonders why public officials are living like billionaires Jay-Z and Beyonce, flashing money around and so on.

During the News Diggers public discussion at Hotel InterContinental on Friday evening, Mwenye urged Zambians not to underestimate the power of talking.

“That’s advocacy. What we are doing [discussion forum] is action as well, so don’t undervalue this, this is sensitisation and young people should continue to sensitise the public. We are going somewhere, continue talking and acting. There is value in talking,” he said.

“Fighting corruption starts with the individual public officer and it starts with these small things. I had people coming to my office knowing that there is a contract I am considering on my table to clear as Attorney General and offering me Chinese tea of several varieties. Now you have to draw a balance. I never took a single packet of Chinese tea home. I called all the drivers to my office, all the secretaries, all the office orderlies and told them we have visitors here, they have brought us gifts take. When they had taken everything, I said now let’s talk.”

Mwenye said when one for instance, received a Huawei P9 phone or an iPhone X10, they value themselves equal to that phone.

“Aren’t we ashamed that we are now actually putting a price on ourselves? I should become a commodity! The problem with corruption is that when I accept a bribe from Mr X that’s not the only money that will be obtained in my name,” he said. “Mr X will go into his community and say I have access to that one and they will get money in my name which I don’t even know about. Why? Because I have commoditised myself!”

Mwenye noted that there has never been a clear answer to whether there was corruption in Zambia as the question was being avoided.

He said doing so was not helpful to the citizenry because some members of the public claimed that there was no increase in corruption levels in the country though the statistics seemed to be different from what was being claimed.

Mwenye expressed concern that public officials were living extravagantly amidst the country’s economic crisis.

“Why are public officials living like Jay-Z and Beyonce, flashing money around and so on?” he asked. “When we were in public office, some of us, you hide, you feel ashamed even if you can afford it! It is immoral to keep buying big cars when you are serving poor people. We need to be ashamed of that.”

Mwenye indicated that according to the Financial Intelligence Centre trends report of 2018, information relating to 80 suspicious transactions was disseminated by FIC to law enforcement agencies.

He said last year the total amount involved was US$520 million or K6.1 billion which includes fraud and theft but corruption alone accounted for K4.9 billion.

“One of the case studies in the report was one where a public official was given 49 houses as gratification. Before the saliva on our lips derived from discussing these 49 houses dried, we heard of another 48 [houses] this time from the ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission) -houses built by a magical individual who has the ability of evaporating,” he noted. “The question that has bothered me since this revelation is that if a person can abandon 48 properties, what else does he have? That’s why some of us have the problem with just forfeiture of these properties without pursuing the individual. We want the answer to that question, what else could the individual have? People had attacked the FIC over the 49 houses revelation, whether the report should have been released or not but if there was any doubt, at least let’s believe the ACC that there were 48 houses which were forfeited and there is proven corruption because you can’t forfeit unless its proven. With these few revelations, is there a problem of corruption in Zambia? We should begin to get concerned whether it’s in government, opposition, private citizen, civil society. We all have to get concerned, corruption threatens the very existence of our state, it threatens the public offices occupied by public officers.”

Mwenye said corrupt people became so powerful that they could destabilise the fabric of the nation.

“It’s a security issue, the economy and corruption if we don’t have a crisis at least we certainly have economic challenges as a nation,” he said. “In an economy, as challenged as ours, to hear that US$417 million was possibly lost to corruption last year is worrying and alarming. In this economic crisis to hear that someone corruptly obtained 48 houses and just vanished into thin air must concern us all as a nation and the concern must permeate everywhere.”

Mwenye said it was possible that out of the Euro bond, 40 per cent might have been lost to corruption.

“It’s worrying. Corruption needs to be dealt with in order for the country’s economy to grow,” he said.

“Fighting corruption was important economically as the demon carries along a twin demon of careerism in government. It becomes a bureau for dishing out contracts to those in government or to those close to them,” he said. “The problem with this is that it brings down meritocracy. It breeds inflated prices on all government procurement, contracts begin to be awarded not to the best qualified or experienced people but to those willing to give cuts or commissions to those who ward contracts. The result is we end up paying huge amounts of money and end up with shoddy works which we have to redo at some time in future and the poor people end up paying and bear the costs of taxes.”

Mwenye said the most important solution was to have demonstrable political will and leadership in the fight against the cancer.

“It has to be demonstrable, tangible and clear, in words and deeds. Leadership cannot be seen to defend accused persons whenever the scourge is talked about as the job of the State is to prosecute,” he said. “There is need to enhance the mandate of law enforcement agencies by employing people who stand on firm grounds, people who will sacrifice to fight the menace. Lifestyle audits, people should not be afraid to be investigated if they are clean. They need to declare their assets and prove how they were acquired, individuals need to account for their wealth failure to which they should not assume public office.”

Mwenye said public officials should be open to accountability as there was no privacy.

He recalled the corruption perception index in 2012, when he was attorney general, ranked Zambia at 37.

“In the three years that I served under President [Michael] Sata, we prosecuted three sitting ministers, one was convicted. All of them were fired while they were being prosecuted. They were out,” said Mwenye. “There was a permanent secretary who threw a very big party, by the next week she was fired. We said go and enjoy your money, we serve poor people…In the area of corruption, I saw tangible steps which were taken to fight the scourge.”

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